Vegkop is the location where the battle of Vegkop took place in 1836. What one finds there now are a number of monuments, graves, a museum, an accommodation block and a hall for functions. It is about 20 km going south from Heilbron on the R725. The picture was taken from the top Vegkop, looking down onto the complex.
The early Voortrekkers had reached the Vaal river and were camped there in small groups. There were some problems with the Mathabele under the leadership of Moselikatse. He didn't like the presence of them so close to him and caused some trouble for the Voortrekkers. The most serious incident was when the Liebenberg group was murdered, camped over the river near the present Parys at a place called Liebenberg Kop.
The potential for more problems caused the Trekkers to withdraw from the river and move south and east. A group under the leadership of Sarel Cillier went east and set up 'laager' (encampment) at, what is now, Vegkop. The camp was fortified in anticipation of an attack. Branches of thorn tree were tied to the wagons on the side facing the enemy, all the wagons were connected by chains so that they cannot be moved or turned over.
The defenders consisting of 33 men, the woman and children were placed in an inside fortification, their duty was to reload the guns and to look after the wounded. Among the children was also Paul Kruger, the later president of the Transvaal, he was 11 at the time.
The Mathabele attacked in large numbers, one estimate puts the number at 5 to 6000. The enemy attacked in wave after wave, the encampment withstood the onslaught. They eventually left, taking along all the cattle and sheep.
On the side of the Trekkers the loss was two dead, Nicolaas Potgieter and Piet Botha, and 14 wounded, Sarel Cillier being one of them. It is estimated the Mathabele lost about 400.
There is a bit of an uncertainty about the exact date of the battle. On the monument the date of 3 October 1836 is given, but there are other credible sources that put the date at some time later in October.
The big monument, as it is standing now was inaugurated in October 1984. The statue on top of the stones was done by Coert Steenberg and the six friezes around the outside by Isa Wiechers.
It is to be noted that the monument is not at the site of the battle, the encampment was on the flat ground 300 meters to the south of the monument.
A monument to the event was first erected in 1883 on top of the Vegkop, overlooking the battle site, by the Heilbron congregation of the Dutch Reformed Church. Soon after the unveiling of the monument it was felt that there should also be a monument at the actual battle site. A solution to this problem was found by moving the monument from the top of the mountain down to near the museum, that was 1912.
I went up the mountain to see whether I can make out where the monument used to be. There is a walled in rectangle of 34 by 15 meter about 120m east from the Vegkop name laid out on the crest, well visible on Google Earth.
The inscription in the stone has weathered away with time and new panels made from stainless steel have been affixed to the monument. The inscription is in Dutch and translated reads:
God be praised
Moselikatse with his hordes was defeated by Sarel Cilliers, supported by only thirty three men on 2 October 1836. While 1137 assegais were thrown into the laager, only 14 men were wounded and two killed. Round the lager 430 Matabeles were found dead.
Honour and praise to those brave heroes who were empowered by God.
Their names will be honoured although the years pass.
Their brave deeds which were displayed here will certainly be rewarded by God on high.
The second panel reads: In memory of the miraculous deliverance by our Lord of Mr,H.Potgieter, Commandant, S.A.Cilliers and the 30 men and their families at Vegkop in the year 1836. Ps 118:3
It is better to take your refuge in the Lord than to trust on man,
Erected on 2 October 1883.
This is followed by a list of names of the commission for erecting this monument.
Nearby the monument is the grave of Nicolaas Potgieter and Piet Botha, the two Voortrekkers who died during the battle. The grave stone translated reads as:
sleep well, brave heroes
Nicolaas Potgieter, brother,
and Piet Botha, brother-in-law of
died 2-Oct-1836 at Vegkop
by the festival commission
The original gravestone, made from sandstone, had weathered so badly that it was replaced by a longer lasting one from granite. A small stone under the Gravestone sais: re-buried 10-Oct-1984. The explanation for this is given in the chapter below.
As mentioned above, the actual site of the encampment was further down the hill. In fact it is about 50m to the south from the old monument. It used to be marked by a heap of stones, but those were used in the base when the old monument was relocated in 1912, see above. Hoping that they would have left a few stones there I went around looking for some. I had no success. An other marker for the battle field is the former resting place of Nicolaas Potgieter and Piet Botha. Their remains were moved to a new grave near the old monument in 1984, but the site is still marked by a railing and inscription. It is known that these two fighters were buried same day after the battle near the wagons.
The inscription above the door says 'CJDV Saal'. The CJDV stands for Christlike Jongeliede Debatsvereeniging, translated Young Christians Debating Society. The hall was built as a meeting place for festivals and productions, I presume that means plays. The hall was completed and inaugurated on the 16 December 1905. The foundation stone reads:
TER GEDACHTENIS AAN GOD
BEWEZEN HIER TER PLAATSE
DEN 2de OCTOBER
Translated it means: In memory of God's wondrous salvation of our forefathers that took place here on the 2nd of October 1836.
On the picture it will be noticed that the word 'God' and '1836' had been scratched out, the explanation is given further down.
When it was felt that the hall was getting to small it was decided to build a new one. The old hall was then converted to house the museum.
Vegkop had an incident in December 2008. Some words had been scratched out from the foundation stone of the museum and some words removed from the information plaques at the monument. The words attacked were very specific: 'God' and 'Christian' on the plaque and 'God' and '1836' from the foundation stone. The picture, borrowed from the Volksblad, shows the damage as done to one of the words.
Nobody claimed responsibility. But there is a suspect, a man with a long beard, head scarf and dirty clothing was seen on the terrain on a day when the curator, Abel Claasen, was day off. What is a mystery to me is what has motivated that person to vandalise only certain words.
The damage to the plagues was repaired free of charge by Jan Viljoen, a goldsmith from Roodeport.
On top of Vegkop are many ruins of former inhabitants, the ones that build the beehive huts. The people are referred to as the Leghoya. Not much is known about their history, they were gone by the time the Voortrekkers came to the area.
Looking at Google Earth, there are many sites. The ruins are very much overgrown making it impossible to take a meaningful picture. Thus I present a picture found in the 'Huisgenoot' of July 1916. At that time many of the huts were still standing.
Ref 1.: Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa, Nasou Limited, 1974
Rev 2.: 'The Orange Free State - its pastoral, agricultural and industrial resources', compiled by Somerset Playne, printed by the foreign and colonial, compiling and publishing company, 1912
Ref 3.: GBA Gerdener, Sarel Cilliers - die Vader van Dingaansdag, 1919
Ref 4.: Prof.MCE van Schoor, 'Vegkop', a brochure issued by the National Monuments Council, 1984